However, the payment did not result in the Australian contractor’s visa problems going away. Mr Stewart’s emails to Mr Saul indicate that Paladin made the payment to Trakpro before it had done much work, a move that created tension within Paladin.
Mr Stewart’s emails refer to him “severely counselling” the Paladin staffer who allegedly promised Trakpro the payment. The staffer resigned a week later.
Mr Stewart, who is understood to have authorised the Trakpro payment, also raised the matter at the next Paladin board meeting and called for the company to establish a “bribery and corruption policy”, according to an email to Mr Saul.
Representatives from Paladin and Trakpro declined to comment, with Trakpro citing client confidentiality.
In another email, Mr Stewart detailed an earlier arrangement between Paladin and a PNG-based government relations consultancy called DRM.
“The point of the DRM engagement was to accept their offer to be a buffer between us and the PNG Government,” Mr Stewart wrote.
He wrote that DRM in 2017 had advised Paladin that senior PNG government officials wanted payments of 20 million kina – about $8 million – if the Australian company wanted visas for its staff. Paladin did not give in to the demands and no payments were made to any politicians or officials either directly or through DRM. Paladin’s contract with DRM was cancelled in 2018, at which point the company began working with Trakpro. DRM did not respond to inquiries.
Paladin’s hiring of PNG lobbyists has not been publicly reported before and the Department of Home Affairs is refusing to say whether it was aware of the arrangements.
The Home Affairs department paid Paladin $423 million between 2017 and 2019 to run Australia’s offshore detention facilities on Manus Island. Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo has maintained that none of his officials were aware of any pressure from PNG politicians or officials for Paladin to make improper payments.
But Mr Stewart’s emails to Mr Saul detail several conversations he claims to have had with senior Home Affairs officials through 2017 and 2018 about direct requests for payments from top PNG officials.
Documents tabled in federal parliament last year by Home Affairs in relation to Paladin’s contracts showed the company’s executives had asked the department in September 2017 whether they should “help out” with payment of “unforeseen bribes”.
The Age and Herald revealed last week that Paladin agreed to a request from a top PNG official to pay about $4000 to help repatriate a body for a funeral in 2017. However, this led to increasing demands from the PNG official, according to Mr Stewart.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and his department have not responded to questions submitted a week ago.
Richard Baker is a multi-award winning investigative reporter for The Age.